Sustainability might be a buzzword for some people, but for others, it has been their life’s work. Marci Zaroff, the “godmother of sustainability”, has spent several decades of her life trying to drive sustainable change in business practices. In 1995, she coined the term ECOfashion as she began working to get the fashion industry to go green.
Zaroff began her career in the organic and natural food industry. Back in 1990 when she began her career, the organic goods industry was so small almost everyone knew each other. Zaroff ended up partnering with cosmetics company Aveda and met the company’s founder. That was when Zaroff began connecting the sustainability dots from food to beauty, and the founder of Aveda became her mentor for over 25 years.
Marci Zaroff is working to make the fashion system more sustainable
In 1995, Zaroff coined and trademarked the term ECOfashion because she saw the interconnection between all lifestyles. “You’d be remiss to ignore fashion because of all environmental and social impacts the industry has,” Zaroff said to FashionUnited. “As I got deeper into the trenches of sustainable fashion or ECOfashion as I coined it, it became very apparent to me that business as usual couldn’t continue.”
Zaroff’s latest brainchild in the sustainable fashion movement is ECOfashion Corp, a greenhouse of emerging brands she is helping develop. The brands currently include YesAnd, a GOTS-certified contemporary sustainable apparel label, Farm to Home, a GOTS-certified bed and bath brand available on QVC, Seed to Style, a GOTS-certified size-inclusive apparel line, and MetaWear, a B2B sustainable fashion manufacturing company. GOTS is the Global Organic Textile Standard that defines global practices for organic textiles.
Zaroff describes this latest endeavor as her “grand finale” to leave behind a legacy of her life work and become a solution provider for other companies. In addition to ECOfashion Corp, she’s also launched the RESET COTTON Farm Project, the first vertically integrated, regenerative program to combine a sustainable fashion model for farmers that also addresses climate change. RESET stands for regenerate the environment, society, and economies textiles.
“ECOfashion Corp has a whole team on the ground in India that oversees production, making ECOfashion Corp a one-stop-shop for a fully sustainable supply chain,” Zaroff said to FashionUnited. “We break the stigma that you can’t be competitive in terms of style and pricing if you are sustainable. Everything we produce is ethically made, supplies are fair trade and GMO-free. All our dyes are low impact, and any water used is circular and regenerative.”
MetaWear is the true core of the brand’s sustainable supply chain. Phase one of the company’s business is continuing to build out manufacturing in India, but phase two is opening a smart factory in the United States for direct-to-garment production and customized printing in the latter half of this year.
Zaroff described direct-to-garment as a printing process that involves printing, where you layer on an art file, and the printing goes right from the technology onto the garment. Everything is done with non-toxic waste.
Zaroff first fell in love with the sustainability movement when she was 16 years old. She began reading about environmental sustainability, and she became a vegetarian and started doing yoga. She began reading more literature on sustainability, philosophy, and environmentalism, and it just clicked with her. “Once I began educating consumers, I realized there was an evolution that happened once that seed of consciousness was planted,” Zaroff said to FashionUnited. “Once people shifted from why would I buy sustainable food or fashion to why wouldn’t I buy sustainable food or fashion, it was more of an attitude of sustainable everything being what they wanted.”
Zaroff thanks the internet for helping transform the sustainability movement today. “The internet changed the game,” she said. “It was the first big catalyst in getting people to wake up to these issues. When people saw the factory collapse in Bangladesh, where hundreds of people lost their lives, a new fashion revolution movement was born. Social media influencers discussing sustainability topics and social media campaigns around sustainable fashion are driving the movement to the place it needs to be. If you aren’t thinking about sustainability in your products, you won’t be relevant. In order to be relevant to the next generation, you need to think about sustainability.”
In the earlier part of Zaroff’s career, many fashion companies would be resistant to hop on the sustainability train because they were defensive about price, thinking they couldn’t afford it, or the product quality would be compromised. Nowadays, almost anything can be done sustainably, from dyes to fabrications, so companies have run out of that line of defense.
Zaroff’s big goal for the RESET Cotton Farm Project is to help farmers switch to sustainable regenerative organic farming making it the standard for textile agriculture. Little by little, she is managing to make the world a more eco-conscious place.